Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Session #20 -- Beer Memories

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "Beer memories." See all the links soon here at Bathtub Brewery.

"Beer memories" could, I suppose, be memories of beers. Most of the really good beers I've had, though, have been with people around; beer's like that, it's social. So there are beers for many of the important people in my life. I'd like to introduce you to some of them.

Genesee Beer: My wife, Cathy. I fell hard for Cathy the second time around...it's a long story. But I laid my heart open for her one weekend in the Catskills with our gang of college friends, about 20 of us tubing on the Esopus Creek. She needed time to think about it; I was anxious but trying to seem nonchalant. So while everyone else went off to a swimming hole, she and I and our friend Bobby retired to the bar. The only beer they had was Genesee, and Cathy ordered three, clinked the cold bottles with us, and drank with gusto. I was in love, and my girl liked beer. I'll never, ever forget that beer, that moment, in the bar at the Antrim Lodge in Roscoe, New York. We've had a lot of really great beers together since then, and a few before that, but that's the beer I think of with her, cold and fresh in the first bloom of love.

Spaten Optimator: Cathy's oldest brother, Chris. I grew up with one sister, just the two of us. When I started dating Cathy seriously, I got to know her three younger brothers. One weekend, Cathy and I were up at her home, east of Poughkeepsie. We didn't have anything to do, so we went and toured some Hudson Valley vineyards, and Chris, similarly at loose ends, came along. We had some really gross sweet wine -- Niagara semi-sweet red, almond-flavored champagne -- saw some great scenery, and wound up in Beacon. We stopped in a little store, and found a sixpack of Optimator. We went down to the sandy beach at Little Stony Point, across the broad Hudson from Storm King Mountain, and in a windy skirl of light snow, drank the Optimator. We didn't say much, but I felt, that day, that I'd been accepted...and for the first time in my life, I had a brother. It was a good day, and a damned good beer.

Samichlaus: Cathy's middle brother, Curt. Cathy's family lived in Dover Plains, New York, and the beer choices in the early 1990s were pretty damned limited. There was a store about half an hour away, though, that had a decent selection, so about 1 on Saturday afternoons, Curt or Chris and I would head down there and stock up. One cold day all three of us went, and we got four bottles of Samichlaus along with a couple sixers of Saranac. Chris was driving, but Curt and I decided to open a Sami. We passed it back and forth, kind of like taking turns stepping behind a mule to get kicked, and got jovial real quick. Curt had always been -- and still is -- taciturn, but under the Swiss hammer, he got red-faced (we were onto a second bottle by now), laughing, and almost chatty. That was the day I finally got to know Curt. Thanks, Sami.

Okocim Porter: Cathy's youngest brother, Carl. This was a more somber occasion. Carl was living in Virginia by now. It was a rough time; Cathy's father was dying of cancer. Cathy was already up at the home; he'd been moved home by the hospice (who were great, and we still send them money every year) and the end was coming close. Carl drove up to our house from Virginia late on Friday night, in February, I think. My parents came down to watch Thomas and Nora (very young at the time), and Carl and I left early Saturday morning. When we got near Harriman, we decided to get off for coffee, and happened on a farm market. Impulse buy: we got a bar of horseradish cheddar, coffee, and some donuts, then got off the Thruway and headed east on Rt. 6 into the state park. It was snowing by now, so we decided to pull off rather than eat cheese while driving. One thing led to another, and I pulled out a big brown bottle of Okocim Porter. We stood back in the woods, silent, and passed the heavy, sweet, roasty beer back and forth as the snow drifted down through the trees. He and I remember that well, a day when we felt the years coming down on our backs, when we were becoming older men as the torch passed. Okocim is a beer I don't approach lightly; it is wrapped in memories, and opening one stirs them up.

Victory Root Beer: my son, Thomas. I got laid off when the company I was working for crashed and burned in early 1994. I was on unemployment for four months before finding work. One morning, Thomas, who was three at the time, said to me, "Daddy, why don't you go to work any more?" I felt about that tall. Fast-forward to 1996, when the writing was really starting to pick up, and he and I are sitting at the long bar at Victory, him with a Victory root beer, me with a HopDevil. And suddenly I smiled, and said to him, "Do you remember when you asked me why I don't go to work any more?" Yes, he said, puzzled. "Well," I said, and spread my arms wide, "here we are at work!" That was the day I knew I'd found what I was going to do, and realized that I really could do it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: my best friend and Thomas's godfather, Tom Curtin. I moved to California in August of 1987, driving from Kentucky in a Volvo diesel station wagon. TC, a solid college friend who I'd spent many a crazed moment with, flew out to Denver to join me for the trip. We drove across Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, crazy driving of miles and miles and miles, and when we got to Lake Tahoe, we were ready for a break. We rented a boat, and went out on the lake; it was a great day. It was also the day I had my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and that was great, too. All cemented in my mind and memory, inseparable.

My last homebrew: my daughter, Nora. When Cathy was pregnant with Nora, I brewed up a batch of peach ale with the last ripest peaches of the summer. It fermented, I racked it, and it sat in secondary for two months. I bottled it -- "My Little Peach" -- about three weeks before she was born in January. A month later my company fell apart, two weeks after that my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. I remember sitting at home, not spending money, watching the snow fall as I held my beautiful sleeping baby girl in my arms. And I never homebrewed again. I had become Mister Mom, and I just didn't have the time or inclination.

Beer takes me back to memories sometimes. Just seeing a label, just taking a sip, just thinking. Sometimes, most times, actually...it's just a beer. But you never know when you might be making a memory. Cheers, to my friends and family, and to all those with memories of beer.

14 comments:

Matt said...

This was a beautiful article. It made me sad in a good way.

Bill said...

Great piece. Very moving.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfull post Lew!
I am a regular visitor to your blog and I feel like I know you a little better after reading it.
Beer can indeed wear away at the walls we put up and bring us all closer together.
Cheers!

bill mc said...

Woo..deep and powerful, well done...Bravo.

Anonymous said...

lew i voted for for you to post more and this was a example why . just really nice stuff . oh if i could just meet a woman who likes beer instead of the ones who give my beer fridge a nasty look .

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks. I felt clumsy writing this, these people mean so very much to me, and I just didn't feel like I did them justice. I'm glad some of what I was feeling came across.

Drew said...

lew, great piece. It's evident that these moments ring true for you.

Too bad you're not here in SoCal, I'd get you back on that homebrewing wagon for a few more memories! :)

Lew Bryson said...

Ah, Drew, there were some great memories from that weekend, especially the delicious milds!

Steve said...

What a great piece of writing! Thank you very much for sharing, and for prompting me to think of some of my own beer memories.

Justin said...

Amazing post Lew. Inspiring. I kept wanting more when I finished reading it.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Lew. Shared a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin stout with my 2 son in laws with dinner last night - adding to our memories

TM

TC said...

Thanks for the mention. I however usually associate that day at Tahoe with the beer money we lost when we had to pay for busting the propeller on the rental boat. In searching through my own tattered catalog of distant memories, I do recall us sharing, or rather sprinting down, a Sami. The memory gets fuzzy after that though.

TC

Lew Bryson said...

You know...I try not to think of the prop money (er...was that because you put up the money? Do I owe you? Again?), rather the ridiculously great time we had "breaking" it. And yeah, the Sami "chugging contest" at my bachelor party, when each of us stalled out 3/4 of the way through our bottle and decided to call it a draw! "Look what you've done to my beautiful mobile ho--er, motel!" As Chris said, first and only time I ever stayed in a motel with brake lights.

Anonymous said...

next time some jackass on a forum pisses and moans about how Sam Adams isn't "real" beer, or that Michelob, Yuengling, and Stegmaier all suck, i will kindly forward them to this article to remind them of why most of us love beer...
great piece Lew!